Jessica spent ten years as a dancer at a Reno strip club. Jessica’s roommate introduced her to the strip club, where she started making good money and she was able to pay her bills again.
“I was sexually abused as a child. I had a single mom who was never around. I guess I was an easy target. It was a really dark time for me. I was really lonely.”
The job made her feel disposable, so she often got as drunk as possible before work in order to numb her thoughts.
“I never slept with any customers, but I definitely let the lines blur. I had men put $7,000 cash on the table and say, ‘what can you do for me?’ I’d think, man, I could pay my rent for the next six months. I’ll never see you again and it’s half an hour of my life. I created this belief system in my mind that if men only wanted me for my body, then why shouldn’t I take advantage of them too?”
Jessica’s life as a dancer was also dangerous. She remembers other dancers leaving the club with customers and returning with black eyes and other injuries. Some women never came back. She believes the club owners exploited the dancers and tried to get them intoxicated so they could take advantage of them.
“If you gave the manager a cut of what you were making, they would turn a blind eye. Strip club is basically a cover name for a brothel.”
Awaken was Jessica’s ticket out of an industry that had her feeling trapped with no choices. When Jessica first quit her job after ten years as a dancer at a Reno strip club, she was terrified of being judged, and she felt like she didn’t have any skills that would transfer into the job market.
“The hardest thing about getting out of this industry is ‘okay so this is what I did for ten years. So, what do I put on my resume?’”
She transitioned slowly—first finding work as a bartender, and then eventually starting nursing school where she is set to begin clinical trials in June 2021. She says she hopes to one day volunteer to support Awaken because she understands what it’s like to feel trapped in the sex industry.
Awaken offered financial assistance, and got her connected with a therapist who she says has changed her life for the better. Jessica is now in a healthy relationship with her boyfriend of four years, and she’s even begun rebuilding ties to her family.
“I don’t know how to express how good it feels. Freedom. You have autonomy. You have your body. No one gets to look at you. You don’t have to be abused. There is no shame for me anymore. It’s not a secret. This is me and what I have been through, and I made it.”
Since Awaken was founded in 2011, it has reached more than 700 women and children in the Northern Nevada community. Awaken’s mission is to increase awareness and education surrounding the issue of commercial sexual exploitation and to provide housing and restoration for its victims.
Thank you to all of the Awaken donors and supporters who have helped us reach this important milestone of ten years!